1)Fredrick Bourdin – 23-Year-Old French Algerian Poses as a Missing 16-Year-Old American
This is not your typical American teenager…
Fredrick Bourdin is what’s known as a serial impostor – someone who consistently takes on new identities. However, one of his frauds has given him the crown of #1 impostor. In 1997, Bourdin was apprehended in the small town of Lineares, located in Spain. As was his standard ploy, he pretended to be someone else, usually a young boy. This time, however, he said he was an American teenager. As he was held overnight by authorities at the unmanned police station, he got access to an international lost children’s hotline and was able to pull a name and other information from the list. The next day, he claimed he was Nicholas Barclay, who had gone missing in Texas some 3 years earlier; Bourdin claimed to have been kidnapped and brought overseas. Now, this is where the story gets really crazy. Even though he had a thick French accent, brown hair, and brown eyes (Barclay had blonde hair and blue eyes) he was able to not only convince U.S. and Spanish authorities he was the child, but also the members of the boy’s family! Bourdin was “returned” to Texas and lived with his “family” for 5 months. This con was so amazing, it was turned into a documentary in 2012 called, appropriately enough, The Impostor. But Bourdin’s story doesn’t end there – in 2004, he attempted to pass himself off as a Spanish boy who had gone missing after the Madrid terrorist attacks, and he was jailed again a year later for impersonating a French orphan.
2)“Emperor” Norton – Claimed to be Emperor of the United States
Joshua Abraham Norton, aka Emperor Norton, is one of the few impostors actually embraced for his charade. He was born in England, but eventually emigrated to San Francisco, California. Sometime in his adult life he became unhinged, and began loudly proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States. San Francisco was known for its tolerance even back then, and they treated the self-proclaimed Emperor with respect and even admiration. He proposed abolishing Congress as well as building bridges and tunnels across the San Francisco Bay, ideas that reverberated with his “followers” – the Bay Bridge and Transbay tunnels were eventually built long after his death. Someone even created Emperor Norton currency with his face on it, which was legal tender at certain local merchants. When he died in 1880, 30,000 people filled the streets to pay tribute to him. Was he an impostor, a hero, or just crazy? That’s for you to decide.
3)Christopher Rocancourt – Fake Rockefeller Married a Playboy Model, Duped the Rich
It takes a lot of chutzpah to pretend you are someone else, especially when it comes to the rich and famous, and Christopher Rocancourt had boatloads. A flamboyant Frenchman, he sometimes pretended to be a member of the iconic Rockefeller family or the son of French nobility. He played the part well, throwing lavish parties with money he didn’t have and duping people into investing in his schemes. He was so successful in his charade that he married Playboy Model Pia Reyes, lived for a time with actor Mickey Rourke, and even got Jean-Claude Van Damme to put up money for a movie. Eventually, he was caught, served a five year sentence, and was ordered to pay over $10 million to nineteen victims.
4)Frank William Abagnale – Famous Confidence Man Who Inspired a Movie and a Broadway Show
One of these men is Frank Abagnale, the other… an impostor!!
You probably know Frank William Abagnale from the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me if You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and he is the only repentant impostor on our list. In the early 1960s, starting at the age of 16, Abagnale assumed the identities of an airline pilot, an attorney, a pediatrician, a college professor, and several others to pull of a series of ruses (and women’s undergarments). He also cashed a ton of fraudulent checks totaling $2.5 million US, and escaped from custody – twice. I think you can see why his life was made into a movie and now a Broadway musical of the same name (which are both named after his ghostwritten autobiography). When they finally did catch him, he changed his ways and became a consultant on fraud for the FBI as well as opening his own firm. Sometimes, being an impostor can pay off. Here he is on To Tell The Truth in the 1970s, already cashing in on his notoriety.